Big 12 newcomers struggled in debuts. Now they're getting ready for the league to change again

Thu, Apr 25, 2024

Big 12 newcomers struggled in debuts. Now they're getting ready for the league to change again

Big 12 Conference newcomers struggled in their league debuts, even after all brought winning programs into the league.

BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF all had losing records and were in the bottom half of the Big 12 standings last season. They won only eight conference games combined, and half of those came in games they played against each other.

Now after a second spring for the Big 12, that quartet is getting ready for another significant transition in the league, while all have changes of their own. There will be four more new teams this fall and the departure of two championship-winning programs.

There will be new starting quarterbacks at BYU, Cincinnati and UCF. Houston returns QB Donovan Smith, but is the only of the league's returning schools with a new coach after Willie Fritz replaced the fired Dana Holgorsen.

Smith, a former Texas Tech starter, had surgery in the offseason to repair a labrum tear in his throwing shoulder after completing 64.5% of his passes for 2,801 yards and 22 touchdowns in his Cougars debut. While limited on the field during spring drills, he spent a lot of time learning Fritz's offense and is expected to be ready for fall camp.

"I feel like he got a lot better," Fritz said. "He did a good job of paying attention, asking questions and coaching guys."

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Fritz came from Tulane after that American Athletic Conference team two years ago had an FBS-record 10-win turnaround capped by a stunning comeback win over Southern California in the Cotton Bowl. Houston was 4-8 last year.

Cincinnati was in the AAC three years ago when it was the first team from outside the Power Five to make the four-team College Football Playoff.

The Bearcats were 3-9 in coach Scott Satterfield's debut, and their only Big 12 win was over Houston. Indiana transfer Brendan Sorsby, who had multiple TD passes in five of his 10 games as a redshirt freshman last year, appears set to succeed quarterback Emory Jones after his only year at Cincinnati to end a three-school, six-season college career.

BYU has to replace Kedon Slovis after his only season at his third school ended at 4-8. The Cougars' QB competition will go into fall camp between South Florida transfer Gerry Bohanon, who before that was Baylor's starter for its Big 12 championship game win in 2021, and Jake Retzlaff, their backup last season.

"They're both athletic. They both can make the throws that we need them to make in this offense and they're both really smart," BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said. "It's been a really good battle."

UCF was 6-7, ending a streak of six consecutive winning seasons. The Knights were 3-6 in the Big 12, with a surprising 45-3 win over league runner-up Oklahoma State to go with wins over Houston and Cincinnati. They have added quarterback KJ Jefferson, who threw for 7,911 yards and 67 touchdowns in 44 games the past five seasons at Arkansas, and also ran for 1,876 yards and 21 more TDs.

"I'm really excited about KJ. I recruited him out of high school, but Bo Nix was the same age," said fourth-year UCF coach Gus Malzahn, who was previously at Auburn. "Obviously, we weren't gonna take two quarterbacks. So I had my eye on him and, being from Arkansas, a lot of my friends are huge Arkansas fans. So when he went in the portal, he was our No. 1 guy."


Mike Gundy is going into his 20th season as head coach of the Cowboys, with the only longer-tenured FBS coach being Kirk Ferentz going into his 25th season at Iowa this fall. Gundy was a quarterback from Oklahoma State from 1986-89, then an assistant coach for 10 seasons over two different stints before taking over as head coach.

The Cowboys return 10 starters on both sides of the ball. They have been to their only two Big 12 championship games the past three seasons.


BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF will no longer be the newcomers when the Big 12 expands from 14 to 16 teams.

Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah are moving from the Pac-12 into the Big 12 this summer. That is when reigning league champion Texas and Oklahoma make their move to the Southeastern Conference. The Longhorns and Sooners were the only remaining Big 12 members to win national championships in football.


The Big 12 will have a new champion next season with Texas departing after bookend titles (the Longhorns also won the league's inaugural title in 1996).

Backup QB Arch Manning created the biggest buzz of the the Longhorns' spring game with his 355 yards passing and three touchdowns. But coach Steve Sarkisian has said Quinn Ewers will remain the starter after bypassing the NFL draft.

Manning is headed to the SEC where both of his Super Bowl-winning uncles were standout quarterbacks - Peyton Manning at Tennessee and Eli Manning at Ole Miss.


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